The highlight of our Cyprus trip was the journey to the Turkish side of Cyprus to check out the ghost town of Varosha. Before the trip I used hours searching for stories of the people who had to flee their homes in 1974. I also read Victoria Hislop’s novel The Sunrise which tells a story of the most desirable holiday destination turning into a ghosttown.
Famagusta used to be an elite holiday destination still in the 70s. Film stars were not an unusual sight there. In 1974 Turkey invated the northern part of Cyprus. Varosha area was gated and since then only Turkish troops and few UN officials have been able to visit the area. The Greek population fled without much of a luggage since they believed they would return to their homes soon. That hasn’t happened yet.
In 2003 so called ”green line” which divided the Greek and Turkish side, was opened and nowadays you are able to access the Turkish side from various crossing points. Varosha is the only place that stays closed.We hopped into our car early in the morning and started driving towards Ayia Napa and Deryneia. Everything went well until we tried to find the Ayios Nikolaos crossing. The navigator couldn’t find the place and of course none of the Turkish side names either. Afterwards I found out that the crossing has multiple names e.g. Black Knight, Strovilia, Akyar..No wonder we were a bit lost.
We were circulating around in the village of Deryneia and somehow found the Famagusta Viewpoint. For two euros we got access to the viewpoint were you could try to get a glimpse of Varosha with poor quality binoculars. I was quite pissed at this point since the whole viewpoint felt like a tourist scam. Later on I heard that the owner of the place had to flee from the area in 1974. What a shame I didn’t know this at that point. I would have loved to hear his story. Tourist scam or not, we got a map and directions how to drive to the crossing point.
With the help of a traditional paper map, we drove via Frenaros to Vrysoulles/Ayios Nikolaos (St Nicholas)/Strovilia (what ever you want to call it) and again to the crossing point. We showed our passports (no stamps!) and bought a 20 euro insurance for the car. I didn’t read through the insurance conditions but I doubt they would have covered basically anything. Our Kia Sorrento had took so many hits already (I took 38 pictures before signing the rental agreement) so we took the risk.
We were able to find Famagusta and Varosha easily after that and found a parking spot near Palm Beach hotel. We took our camera and water bottle and walked towards the beach. We faced the barbed wire fence immediately as well as a ban to take any photos. On the beach the world stopped. The whole scenery was absurd. The guests of Palm Beach hotel were drinking beer and enjoying the sun while a whole suburb was almost in ruins in front of them. We did take photos despite of the ban and threatening looking soldiers (with their guns).
I hadn’t realized that you could get so close to the old hotel buildings. I can imagine how stunning this place has been in its glory days since the beach was one of the best I have seen in Cyprus. However, the abandoned buildings that you could almost touch made it look like a sad place. Our trip to Varosha was one of the most touching trips we have done in a while and I was dreaming of the place and stories I had read during many nights. Varosha left me out of words.